I have been a Zen student/practitioner since 1986
I am the author of The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing: The Second Ancestor of Zen in the West. It is a fictional account of a modern day Zen master written in the style of the Sutra of Huineng.
I am a father, husband, merchant marine officer, and first class pilot. I work as a captain for the Washington State Ferries.
decision to express the ‘right view’ concerning the significance of how and why
the ‘one-vehicle’ or authentic Buddha Dharma came to be identified with notion
that ‘Zen’ (Chinese; ch’an, Indian; dhyana) was a distinct school or sect of
Buddhism was certainly not an arbitrary or spur-of-the-moment event. According
to the journal that is supposed to represent the record of Dogen’s time in
China studying under Master Ju-ching, this was a question that raised serious concerns
for Dogen personally. For example, in one of his evidently early interviews
with his teacher (prior to Dogen’s own awakening experience, also recorded in
this journal), we read:
asked: ‘If the Great Way of all the buddhas and patriarchs cannot be confined
to one narrow corner, why do we insist on calling it the Ch’an School?’
replied: ‘We must not arbitrarily call the Great Way of the buddhas and
patriarchs the Ch’an School. The Ch’an School is a false name that is
lamentable indeed. It is the name of bald-headed little beasts have been using.
All the ancient virtuous ones of the past knew this. Have you ever read Shih-men lin-chien lu?’
replied: ‘I have not yet read the book.’
said: ‘If you read through it once, it will be sufficient. The purport of the
book is correct.
Hokyo-ki, Dogen’s Formative Years in China,
Takashi James Kodera
citation nicely brings us to the next section of the Shobogenzo, Butsudo fascicle – the fascicle we have been discussing
wherein Dogen presents his most comprehensive view of the matter. For the next
section begins with a quote from the text that Ju-ching advised Dogen to read
on the subject; the Shih-men lin-chien lu
first went from the land of the Liang dynasty to the land of the Wei dynasty.
He passed along the foot of Suzan Mountain and rested his staff at Shorin
[Temple]. He just sat in stillness facing the wall, and only that—he was not
learning Zen meditation. He continued his for a long time but no one could
understand the reason, and so they saw Bodhidharma as training in Zen
meditation. Now, dhyana is
only one of many practices: how could it be all there was to the Saint? Yet on
the basis of this [misunderstanding] the chroniclers of that time subsequently
listed him among those who were learning Zen meditation: they grouped him
alongside people like withered trees and dead ash. Nevertheless, the Saint did
not stop at dhyana; and
at the same time, of course, he did not go against dhyana—just
as the art of divination emerges from yin and
yang without going against yin
Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
immediately following his quotation of this record, Dogen comments:
him the twenty-eighth patriarch is on the basis that [Maha]kasyapa is the first
patriarch. Counting from Vipasyin Buddha, he is the thirty-fifth patriarch. The
Seven Buddhas’ and twenty-eight patriarchs’ experience of the truth should not necessarily
be limited to dhyana. Therefore
the master of the past says, “Dhyana is
only one of many practices; how could it be all there was to the Saint?” This
master of the past has seen a little of people and has entered the inner sanctum
of the ancestral patriarchs, and so he has these words. Throughout the great
kingdom of Song these days [such a person] might be difficult to find and might
hardly exist at all. Even if [the important thing is] dhyana
we should never use the name “Zen sect.” Still more, dhyana
is never the whole importance of the Buddha-Dharma. Those who,
nevertheless, willfully call the great truth that is authentically transmitted
from buddha to buddha “the Zen sect” have never seen the Buddha’s truth even in
a dream, have never heard it even in a dream, and have never received its
transmission even in a dream. Do not concede that the Buddha-Dharma might even
exist among people who claim to be “the Zen sect.” Who has invented the name “Zen
sect”? None of the buddhas and ancestral masters has ever used the name “Zen
sect.” Remember, the name “Zen sect” has been devised by demons and devils.
People who have called themselves a name used by demons and devils may
themselves be a band of demons; they are not the children and grandchildren of
the Buddhist patriarchs.
Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
Dogen’s presentation of the significance of the fallacious view, he presents a
clear view of what he regards to be the accurate expression of Buddhist
World-honored One, before an assembly of millions on Vulture Peak, picks up an uḍumbara
flower and winks. The assembly is totally silent. Only the face
of Venerable Mahakasyapa breaks into a smile. The World-honored One says, “I
have the right Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana; along with the
saṃghaṭi robe, I transmit them to Mahakasyapa.
The World-honored One’s transmission to Mahakasyapa is “I have the right
Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana.” In addition to this there is
no “I have the Zen sect and I transmit it to Mahakasyapa.” He says “along with
the saṃghaṭi robe;”
he does not say “along with the Zen sect.” Thus, the name “Zen sect” is never
heard while the World-honored One is in the world.
The Authentic Buddha Dharma – Which Zen is Zen? Part 1
Within the contemporary Zen community the term
‘Zen,’ when used as a designation for the 1500 year old tradition known as Zen
Buddhism, is frequently used in ways that hardly suggest there is much universal
agreement about what Zen Buddhism is. That is, while it is usually pretty clear
that the term Zen is supposed to designate authentic Buddhism (the Buddha
Dharma, Buddha Tao, or Buddha Way), the many various speakers and writers that
identify themselves as Zen adherents or representatives often portray widely
divergent versions of Zen doctrine and methodology. While it would be an
exercise in futility to make any attempt to sort out all the variations of
contemporary Zen in order to come to some clear vision as to ‘authentic Zen,’
we can at least get a fairly good vision of what it is that the Zen master
Eihei Dogen regarded as the authentic Buddha Dharma.
In 1243 – at the very peak of his creative powers –
Dogen wrote Butsudo (Butsu;
Buddha, do [tao]; way, truth, path),
a fairly long fascicle of Shobogenzo presenting a clear account of his
own view of the matter. The Butsudo fascicle (which
Nishijima & Cross translate as “The
Buddhist Truth”) begins with a quote by the sixth [Zen] ancestor Huineng
(Sokei) followed by comments from Dogen thus:
The eternal buddha Sokei on one occasion preaches to the assembly, “From Eno to
the Seven Buddhas there are forty patriarchs.” When we investigate these words,
from the Seven Buddhas to Eno are forty buddhas. When we count the buddhas and
the patriarchs, we count them like this. When we count them like this, the
Seven Buddhas are seven patriarchs, and the thirty-three patriarchs are
thirty-three buddhas. Sokei’s intention is like this. This is the right and
traditional instruction of the Buddha. Only the rightful successors of the
authentic transmission have received the authentic transmission of this counting
method. From Sakyamuni Buddha to Sokei there are thirty-four patriarchs. Each
of the transmissions between these Buddhist patriarchs is like Kasyapa meeting
the Tathagata and like the Tathagata getting Kasyapa. Just as Sakyamuni Buddha
learns in practice under Kasyapa Buddha, each teacher and disciple exists in
the present. Therefore, the right Dharma-eye treasury has been personally
transmitted from rightful successor to rightful successor, and the true life of
the Buddha-Dharma is nothing other than this authentic transmission. The
Buddha-Dharma, because it is authentically transmitted like this, is perfectly
legitimate in its transmission. This being so, the virtues and the pivotal
essence of the Buddha’s truth have been faultlessly provided. They have been
transmitted from India in the west to the Eastern Lands, a hundred thousand and
eight miles, and they have been transmitted from the time when the Buddha was
in the world until today, more than two thousand years. People who do not learn
this truth in practice speak randomly and mistakenly. They randomly call the
right Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana that have been
authentically transmitted by the Buddhist patriarchs “the Zen sect”; they call
the ancestral master “the Zen patriarch”; they call practitioners “Zen
students” or “students of dhyana”;
and some of them call themselves “the Zen schools.” These are all twigs and leaves
rooted in a distorted view. Those who randomly call themselves by the name “Zen
sect,” which has never existed in India in the west or in the Eastern Lands,
from the past to the present, are demons out to destroy the Buddha’s truth.
They are the Buddhist patriarchs’ uninvited enemies.
Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
comments here are probably clear enough – “This is the right and traditional
instruction of the Buddha” – that is, the issue at hand here is what he regards
as authentic Zen, or the genuine Buddha Dharma. Before going on to the next
section however, it is worth emphasizing the importance of carefully
considering the point that Dogen brings into relief with his expression that, “Just
as Sakyamuni Buddha learns in practice under Kasyapa Buddha, each teacher and
disciple exists in the present.” In Kazuaki Tanahashi translation of Butsudo, “This
being so, the function, the essence, of the buddha way, is present with nothing
lacking.” The point to get at is that whatever authentic Zen is, it (the
function, the essence, each teacher and disciple, etc.) exists here-now (“in
the present”, “is present with nothing lacking”).
The Continuous Actualization of the Enlightened Mind
Expressions of truth are actualized by the skillful
and creative application of truth via the subjective energy and volition of the
practitioner. Obviously, such skill could hardly be cultivated and developed by
turning away or detaching from the world. As a Buddhist master, Dogen
understood and taught that authentic practice-enlightenment demanded
practitioners to engage in a sustained effort to perceive and comprehend the truth in actual experience by engaging intentional, systematic training to activate, develop, cultivate,
and exercise the human capacities for perception, cognition, and critical discernment. Authentic expressions of truth,
being real dharmas, are and must be
eternal forms (i.e. real instances of existence-time). As it is the nature of
human experience to ceaselessly advance - continuously take-up and cast-off all objects of consciousness (sights, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile sensations, and thoughts) -
without a moment’s rest, expressions of truth, which
present and actualize reality, can only be executed underway, so to speak.
situation of this supreme truth of bodhi is
such that even the whole universe in ten directions is just a small part of the
supreme truth of bodhi: it
may be that the truth of bodhi abounds
beyond the universe. We ourselves are tools that it possesses within this
universe in ten directions. How do we know that it exists? We know it is so
because the body and the mind both appear in the universe, yet neither is
ourself. The body, already, is not “I.” Its life moves on through days and
months, and we cannot stop it even for an instant. Where have the red faces [of
our youth] gone? When we look for them, they have vanished without a trace.
When we reflect carefully, there are many things in the past that we will never
meet again. The sincere mind, too, does not stop, but goes and comes moment by
moment. Although the state of sincerity does exist, it is not something that
lingers in the vicinity of the personal self. Even so, there is something that,
in the limitlessness, establishes the [bodhi-]mind.
Once this mind is established, abandoning our former playthings we hope to hear
what we have not heard before and we seek to experience what we have not experienced
before: this is not solely of our own doing. Remember, it happens like this
because we are “people who are it.”
Inmo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross [brackets in the original]
As actual forms of existence-time, expressions of
truth (real dharmas) demonstrate the
fallacy of abstract speculation; the insubstantial nature of theoretical
doctrines is clearly exposed in direct experiential realization – the vague
“mysterious” realms and “unknown” forces suggested by mystical mumbo jumbo
simply lose all significance in the living reality of personal experience.
Expressions of truth are the transmission of prajna (enlightened wisdom) from
the whole body-mind to the whole body-mind. Where knowledge of truth is acquired by
sustained effort in study, wisdom is the gradual, organic expansion of human
normality actualized through the illumination of that truth in actual practice-enlightenment; the former is accessed
via the memory, the later is the actualized integral character of the
Actualization of Sole-Sitting – The Keystone of Zen
clearly see is to use the Dharma-Eye, sometimes called the “eye to read
scriptures.” To use the Dharma-Eye it must first be opened, and thereafter it
must be skillfully developed and continuously actualized; this ongoing
development and actualization is the keystone of authentic Zen practice and
enlightenment, it is the art of Zen that Dogen calls sole-sitting (shikantaza, zazen-only). Once the Dharma-Eye is active, Zen practice (zazen-only) is actively developed and expanded to become inclusive
not only of meditation, studying sutras, training with koans,
etc., but every aspect of life. Going to work, taking out the
garbage, mowing the lawn, and eating meals is Zen practice (just sitting). Shobogenzo provides detailed examples on
the zazen of cooking, making robes, teeth cleaning, and even using the toilet. When
the True Dharma-Eye is open, these are not the mundane tasks of cooking and
cleaning, but the normal mind of the Tao, the authentic practice-enlightenment
we find the Way that arrives at Buddha, we leave the area of the common person
immediately. The people that have mastered this Way are few.
Himitsu Shobogenzo, Bustu-kojo-no-ji,
Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
the perspective of Zen, the opening of the Dharma-Eye is
simultaneous with the Zen student becoming a Zen practitioner. An authentic Zen practitioner,
by definition, solely practices Zen. In a very real sense, for the Zen
practitioner there is no “Zen
practice” (zazen; meditation) and therefore nothing other than “Zen practice.”
Regardless of what “shikantaza” or “just sitting” might have come to be defined or
interpreted as being by various groups and individuals following Dogen’s
existence-time, the nature of the “just sitting” presented by Shobogenzo has nothing to do with the
kind of sitting that is thought of, spoken about, or performed in the “area of
the common person.” Indeed, it is inevitable that the vast majority of ideas,
definitions, explanations, and interpretations of shikantaza are distortions and misrepresentations, for “The people
that have mastered this Way are few.”
There will be those who dote on
what has passed and try to mimic that, and there may even be demons who slander
those above them and refuse to learn from them. Do not be attracted to either
type or feel resentment towards either. Why do I say not to feel sorry for them
or resent them? Because it is said that people who recognize the three poisons
of greed, hatred, and delusion to be what they are, are rare enough, so there
is no need to feel resentment towards those who do not. Even more importantly,
you should not lose sight of the intention that arose when you first took
delight in seeking the Way of the Buddhas. It is said that when we first give
rise to this intention, we are not seeking the Dharma so that others will
praise us, but are discarding thoughts of fame and gain. Without seeking fame
or gain, we should simply be persons who hold to the true course of realizing
the Way, never concerning ourselves with expectations of recognition or support
from rulers or other officials.
Even though this is the ideal,
there are some people today who, alas, are devoid of any fundamental spiritual
aspirations, having no spiritual goal that they seek, and are not the least
concerned over their delusive entanglements with both ordinary people and those
in lofty positions.
Shobogenzo, Keisei Sanshoku,
pity and resentment aside, then, let us dive right into Shobogenzo’s own presentation of what “shikantaza”
or “just sitting” truly is. First, the term “shikan” (or shikantaza) that is often translated as “just” as in “just sitting”
(shikan; just, taza; sitting) does not denote “merely,” or “simply,” but rather,
“solely,” “totally,” “wholly.” Here we want to mention a point that is worth noticing;
“shikan” is a homophone of “chih kuan” (stopping and seeing, meditation and
prajna, samadhi and insight), a central notion of Tendai Buddhism, the actual
tradition into which Dogen was initially ordained and which remained a
central influence throughout his lifetime. The Tendai notion of “chih-kuan” presents “solely, wholly, etc.” in a specifically nondual
manner – Tendai expressions on “stopping and seeing” (chih-kuan) emphasize the unity of stopping-and-seeing so that stopping is
stopping/seeing and seeing is stopping/seeing. The notion that Dogen
intentionally employs the term “shikan” in some context of the significance of “chi-kuan” has been noticed
and discussed in the scholarly community (e.g. Kodera, Heine) but has
been largely dismissed as an interesting by unverifiable possibility. In view
of Dogen’s characteristic use of homophonic language, and the fact that he was
intimately familiar with the connotations of both terms it would seem that the intentional “double meaning” of “shikan”
should be regarded as “given” and the notion it was unintended considered unlikely.
any case, zazen is presented by Shobogenzo as the archetype of authentic
practice-enlightenment itself. While Zen practice-enlightenment is only and
always portrayed by Shobogenzo as
something specific and particular – never as something vague or
general – it is definitely not presented as being limited or confined to a specific form or particular activity. True, the only actual instances of
practice-enlightenment that has or ever will manifest, is the
practice-enlightenment of particular Zen practitioners at specific
locations-times, but the form (hence, essence) of those instances are not in
any way restricted to particular structures or activities. Particular Zen
practitioners and actual instances of Zen practice-enlightenment are not two
(nondual); Zen practice-enlightenment is solely manifest by and as Zen
practitioners, Zen practitioners are solely manifest by and as Zen
practice-enlightenment. This truth is archetypally embodied and expressed in
Shobogenzo as “zazen,” described as “zazen-only” (shikantaza; solely sitting), and methodologically presented and
transmitted as “nonthinking.”
an archetypal image, zazen presents
(makes present) Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment on the “immovable spot” or “Bodhi-Seat.”
The Bodhi-Seat is the instance of existence-time wherein the Buddha awakens;
the moment-event of Buddhism’s supreme of the supreme, archetypally presented by
the image of Buddha sitting upright in the lotus posture at the location-time
of his enlightenment beneath the Bodhi Tree.
Described and explained as zazen-only (shikantaza), zazen is revealed as the “axis mundi,” the still point
at the center of the Dharma-Wheel wherein the myriad dharmas ceaselessly rise
and set in and as the continuous advance of the universe into novelty.
Zazen-only demonstrates how the “three modes of conduct” (thoughts, words, and
deeds) are wholly grounded in, at, and as the immovable spot; each and all the myriad
dharmas are solely-seated in, at, and as this here-now of existence-time.
presented and transmitted as nonthinking,
zazen is made accessible for the liberation of all beings as the Buddha-Dharma
itself; the “Great Vehicle” or “One Vehicle” (Mahayana or Ekayana) that is the
essence of Zen. The “essence of Zen”
being nondual with the “form of Zen,”
is thus nothing more or less than Zen’s phenomenal expression in and as
existence-time. As a spatial-temporal essence/form, the Zen is accessed by
humans in the same manner and through the same capacities humans access any
other manifest reality; the normal capacities of language, thinking, and
reason. In Shobogenzo these
capacities are most comprehensively treated by the vision of “nonthinking,” creatively
presented as a unification and transcendence of “thinking” and “not-thinking.”
in Shobogenzo to engage in zazen is
to be a Zen practitioner and to be a Zen practitioner is to engage in zazen. To
be a Zen practitioner or engage in zazen is to be solely seated here-now; fully
and totally enacting and being
enacted in and as the myriad dharmas, in and as every thought, word, and deed.
It is not difficult to see that this vision of zazen is nothing more or less
than the practical application of the
principles of nonduality. For one that has verified that form is emptiness, all
forms are empty; this cup is empty, this speech is empty, this boat race is empty – thus each particular dharma is solely-empty. Likewise, to
verify the Buddha-nature of self (thus, of self/other), is to verify the
Buddha-nature of all thoughts, words, and deeds; this memory is self, this utterance is self, this walking is self – each thought, word, and deed
is solely-self (or solely Buddha). As the archetypal image of Zen
practice-enlightenment, zazen is the embodiment of Zen practice-enlightenment,
thus to be a Zen practitioner is to solely embody to be solely embodied as
this sense, to be a Zen practitioner is to actualize zazen – to actualize
anything other than zazen is not to be a Zen practitioner. Hence, a genuine
practitioner is “solely seated” in and as existence-time here-now. Zen
practice-enlightenment is, as it is, “solely sitting.”
From the Zen perspective
it would be dualistic to regard practice-enlightenment as a distinct, independent reality;
a Zen practitioner cannot “sit in zazen” and
“study sutras,” or “sit in zazen” and
“train with koans,” etc., for a Zen practitioner “solely sits” or “just sits.” As authentic
practice-enlightenment is just
sitting; any and all of a Zen practitioner’s thoughts, words, and deeds are just sitting. Zen practitioners do not
teach, work, eat, sleep, andsolely sit – teaching, working, eating,
sleeping are solely sitting. All dharmas are solely emptiness; self and other are solely Buddha-nature; and the thoughts, words, and deeds of Zen
practitioners are solely sitting.
the Zen practitioner, then, there is sitting
that is solely sitting and there is walking that is solely sitting; sitting is not
walking and walking is not sitting,
but both sitting and walking are solely
sitting, solely zazen. The thinking of a Zen practitioner is not the
speaking or acting of a Zen practitioner, but the thinking, speaking, and
acting of a Zen practitioner is solely
Hence, there is the mind’s just
sitting there, which is not the same as the body’s just sitting there. And
there is the body’s just sitting there, which is not the same as the mind’s
just sitting. There is ‘just sitting there with body and mind having dropped
off’, which is not the same as ‘just sitting in order to drop off body and
mind’. To have already realized such a state is the perfect oneness of practice
and understanding that the Buddhas and Ancestors have experienced. Maintain and
safeguard your mind’s functions of remembering, considering, and reflecting.
Thoroughly explore through your training what mind, intent, and consciousness
Shobogenzo, Zammai-ō Zammai,
superficial, and superstitious notions concerning Dogen’s teachings on zazen-only abound in the contemporary Zen community. The majority of these distortions can be remedied by simply learning to appreciate the difference between metaphorical or mythopoeic
language and the language of literal description, coupled with clear grasp of the basic principles of Buddhist nonduality. Many factors, including superficial views of emptiness
and imitators attempting to cash in on the success of genuine Zen,
have contributed to simplistic notions of seated meditation (zazen) over the course of Zen’s history.
The fallacious notions of zazen embraced today are
fundamentally the same as those that have dogged Zen throughout its history.
The most common fallacies combine elements of simplification and superstition; simplifications
portraying zazen literally, as “sitting” (the physical posture of sitting),
and superstitions about zazen (the simplistic literal sense) being the only
element necessary to realize Zen liberation. Not infrequently it is even suggested
that “just sitting” (in the literal sense) is enlightenment itself. Commonly dressed up in trite
slogans about “no goals,” “nothing special,” “just this,” etc., zazen - the very keystone of Zen practice-enlightenment - is pawned off as a simple
arrangement of the body-mind in a proscribed posture of physical sitting. Shobogenzo asserts what common sense already suggests
concerning such notions:
Even if some appear to
understand physical sitting to be what the Buddha taught, they have not yet
grasped that ‘sitting there’ means “Just sit there!”
Shobogenzo, Zammai-ō Zammai,
Shobogenzo’s clear instructions, the
classical Zen teachings, and common sense however, such notions continue to be accepted
and applied by groups and individuals far and wide. Routinely arranging their
body-mind in an upright, cross-legged sitting posture for measured periods of
time, such groups and individuals honestly believe they are enacting “what the
Buddha taught.” This shallow mimicry of the Buddha’s enlightenment is, in their
view, the “just sitting” that Dogen taught.
course, there is nothing wrong, or even unusual about erroneous understandings
and false views; everyone has them, and even sages are compelled to continuously
let go of old views in order to advance, expand, and clarify their understanding and skill.
Sages know enough about stagnation and petrifaction to avoid becoming attached
to any manner of fixed view; ego-centricity, spiritual pride, and sectarian allegiance
however, can be extremely powerful obstacles for even the sincerest of genuine aspirants.
noted, promoters of distorted versions of Dogen’s “zazen” commonly proceed as if
Zen expressions are meant to be understood in the literal sense of descriptive language rather than the mythopoeic language common to all sacred
literature (as well as true art). To support and
impress the notion that “just sitting” literally means tojust sit in the ordinary physical sense, and that this “activity” is the only thing necessary for actualizing
authentic practice-realization, proponents commonly cite
cherry-picked phrases from Dogen’s voluminous writings.
Parenthetically speaking two points are worth mention; in direct contradiction to their insistence
on a “literal” reading of zazen, etc., these same advocates frequently insist
on the “metaphorical” reading of numerous expressions in
Dogen’s writings which they contend "actually mean" the literal performance of zazen. Second,
such advocates typically assume a very liberal tolerance for their own biases while imposing strict constraints on the contentions of others; if,
for example, one of their “supporting quotes" from Dogen is contested
by an apparently contradictory quote from a different passage in Dogen’s work, the
latter is likely to by dismissed as “out of context,” while the former is simply repeated as
if its context were self-evident.
In general, then, the
basic fallacy is that Dogen taught a unique style of Zen (i.e. Japanese
Soto Zen) advocating a single method practice (i.e. zazen-only) essentially consisting of
the literal performance ofphysically sitting still, commonly portrayed
as being accompanied with a particularly “detached” mental attitude. The
physical aspects described are technically equivalent to the basic meditation
techniques common to most Buddhist traditions; sitting upright in the
lotus (or half-lotus) position (a crossed-legged sitting posture). The mental
aspect or attitude advocated is often described (again, in literal terms) as a kind of intentionally “goalless,” “objectless,”
or “detached” state of mind. When pressed to elaborate, proponents of such
notions tend to explain “goalless” or “objectless” in negative or apophatic
terms; as meaning the abstention or avoidance of utilizing traditional Buddhist
techniques such as mindfulness of Buddha, the body, mind, breath, koans,
scriptures, etc. – zazen, they contend, is literally “just sitting” with no object in
mind, maintaining a detached but focused awareness wherein thoughts, words, and deeds, if noticed at all,
are simply to be noted and “let go of” without arousing questions or second thoughts.
This, then, or something similar, is supposed to by Dogen’s supreme method; so effective no other practice
is essential for authentic Zen actualization; there is literally no need to offer incense, bow, chant, confess, read
sutras, or perform any other traditional or nontraditional practice. To support
such notions, the most frequently quoted “authoritative” passage comes from an
early writing of Dogen titled, Bendowa:
the initial meeting with a [good] counselor we never again need to burn
incense, to do prostrations, to recite Buddha’s name, to practice confession,
or to read sutras. Just sit and get the state that is free of body and mind. If
a human being, even for a single moment, manifests the Buddha’s posture in the
three forms of conduct, while [that person] sits up straight in samādhi,
the entire world of Dharma assumes the
Buddha’s posture and the whole of space becomes the state of realization.
Bendowa, Gudo Nishijima & Mike
how does one that takes Dogen’s expressions literally go about
manifesting “the three forms of conduct (thinking, speech, and action), while [that person] sits up straight in
samadhi…”? Fortunately, Dogen was a Zen master not a delusional
zealot, thus his language, like that of all the great sages, is mythical, not
historical, mythopoeic not biographic – Shobogenzo
is an expression of human truth, not an "objective" dissertation. If Dogen had
truly believed practice-enlightenment consisted in the performance of a
particular physical posture/mental attitude, he would not have
dedicated most of his time and energy writing and teaching otherwise.
Fortunately, Dogen understood, acknowledged, and taught that the real form of
zazen-only was the myriad dharmas:
You need to discern and affirm
for yourself the underlying meaning of his saying, “If you wish to see Buddha
Nature, you must first rid yourself of your arrogant pride.” It is not that one
lacks sight, but the seeing of which he spoke is based on ridding oneself of
one’s arrogant pride. The arrogance of self is not just of one kind, and pride
takes many forms. Methods for ridding oneself of these will also be diverse and
myriad. Even so, all of these methods will be ‘one’s seeing Buddha Nature’.
Thus, you need to learn both to look with your eyes and to see with your Eye.
the expression conveying the true nature of zazen-only presented in Bendowa had already been misconstrued as
a literal description or formula of “Zen practice”
rather than a mythopoeic expression of truth in Dogen’s own day. For in the Bukkyo fascicle of Shobogenzo, written only about a decade after Bendowa, Dogen again brought the expression out - only this time he
did so in a manner that could never mistakenly be superficially misrepresented
as a merely formal description of practice.
late master constantly said, “In my order, we do not rely on burning incense,
doing prostrations, reciting names of buddhas, practicing confession, or
reading sutras. Just sit, direct your energy into pursuing the truth, and get
free of body and mind.”
people clearly understand an expression like this. Why? Because to call
“reading sutras” “reading sutras” is to debase it, and not to call it “reading
sutras” is to be perverse. “You are not allowed to talk and not allowed to be
mute: say something at once! Say something at once!” We should learn this truth
in practice. Because this principle [of reading sutras] exists, a man of old
has said, “To read sutras we must be equipped with the eyes of reading sutras.”
& Mike Cross
if this expression was meant literally, more than a “Few people” would have
clearly understood it. Calling it “reading sutras” debases it because it reduces it to literalism, cutting
it out of the nondual reality of its existent form/essence; not calling it “reading sutras” is perverse because it fails to discern the
truth of its inherent uniqueness. For the “few” that clearly
understand, “reading sutras,” along with offering incense,
bowing, chanting, and confessing, is solely-sitting.
In any case, to clearly understand just sitting, reading
sutras, or any other aspect of the Buddha Dharma, we must activate the
Dharma-Eye. To read sutras, the ordinary eyes of literal description are simply
not the appropriate tools; we must be equipped with the eyes of reading sutras.
Whenever “zazen” (or just sitting etc.)
is treated or regarded as a separate activity or distinct action, as one activity among others (e.g. working, reading, eating, etc.), it is
not the zazen-only
illumined and presented by Shobogenzo.
As the formal practice of seated meditation, zazen is simply one form
of activity among many . As the actualization of the universe
(i.e. genjokoan), however, zazen is not only wholly inclusive of “the three
forms of human conduct” (thinking, speech, and action), it is Total Existence
itself, the myriad dharmas as they are.
In this way, you need to
thoroughly explore through your training the thousands of aspects, nay, the
hundreds of thousands of aspects of just sitting.
1.When this principle is preached and
realized, it is said that “matter is just the immaterial” and the immaterial is
just matter. Matter is matter, the immaterial is the immaterial. They are
hundreds of things, and myriad phenomena.
2.And though it is like this, it is only
that flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds while hated, flourish.
3.Life is an instantaneous situation, and death is also an
4.Realization is the state of ambiguity itself.
5.The sun’s face appears together with
the sun’s face, and the moon’s face appears together with the moon’s face.
6.When stupid people hear talk of “mind here
and now is buddha,” they interpret that ordinary beings’ intellect and sense
perception, which have never established the bodhi-mind, are just
7.The Dharma is rarely met.
8.This being so, we should hope that
even trees and stones might preach to us, and we should request that even
fields and villages might preach to us. We should question outdoor pillars, and
we should investigate even fences and walls.
9.A monk asks Zen Master Chōsha
[Kei]shin, “How can we make mountains, rivers, and the earth belong to
ourselves?” The master says, “How can we make ourselves belong to mountains,
rivers, and the earth?” This says that ourselves are naturally ourselves, and
even though ourselves are mountains, rivers, and the earth, we should never be
restricted by belonging.
10.Right and wrong are time; time is not
right or wrong. Right and wrong are the Dharma; the Dharma is not right or
11.We put our self in order, and see [the
resulting state] as the whole universe.
12.Let us pause to reflect whether or not
any of the whole of existence or any of the whole universe has leaked away from
the present moment of time.
13.The mountains and water of the present
are the realization of the words of eternal buddhas.
14.At the present time in the great
kingdom of Song, there is a group of unreliable fellows who have now formed
such a crowd that they cannot be beaten by a few real [people].
15.The Buddha says, “All dharmas
are ultimately liberated; they are without an abode.” Remember, although they
are in the state of liberation, without any bonds, all dharmas are
abiding in place.
16.The present is the reality85 as it is
of the real form, the real nature, the real body, the real energy, the real
causes, and the real effects of the Flower of Dharma turning.
17.This being so, the present is the
“form as it is” of the state of experience, and even “alarm, doubt, and fear”
are nothing other than reality as it is.
18.When we carefully consider this story
of the meeting between the old woman and Tokusan, Tokusan’s lack of clarity in
the past is audible [even] now.
19.A foreigner appears, a foreigner is
reflected—one hundred and eight thousand of them. A Chinese person appears, a
Chinese person is reflected—for a moment and for ten thousand years. The past
appears, the past is reflected; the present appears, the present is reflected;
a buddha appears, a buddha is reflected; a patriarch appears, a patriarch is
20.In the house of the Buddhist
patriarchs, some experience it directly and some do not experience it directly,
but reading sutras and requesting the benefit [of the teaching] are the common
tools of everyday life.
21.This sitting in zazen is not learning
22.The whole universe is utterly without
objective molecules: here and now there is no second person at all.
23.The buddha-nature is always total
existence, for total existence is the buddha-nature.
24.If you want to know this “buddha-nature,”
remember, “causes and circumstances as real time” are just it.
25.The Fifth Patriarch says, “The
buddha-nature is emptiness [ku; shunyata], so we call it being without”[mu]. This clearly expresses that “emptiness” is not
(Note: Dogen’s comment, “This clearly
expresses that ‘emptiness’ is not nonexistence”, reads, in the original, “kū
wa mu ni ara zu”, thus,“kū
is not mu,” or “śūnyatā is not nonexistence.” Nishijima &
26.This emptiness is beyond the emptiness
of “matter is just emptiness.” [At the same time,] “matter is just emptiness”
describes neither matter being forcibly made into emptiness nor emptiness being
divided up to produce matter. It may describe emptiness in which emptiness is
just emptiness. “Emptiness in which emptiness is just emptiness” describes “one
stone in space.”
27.To affirm [the buddha-nature] as the
miscellaneous circumstances manifest before us is “to command the style of
behavior that is free of hindrances.”
28.A monk asks Great Master Shinsai of
Jōshū, “Does even a dog have the buddha-nature or not?”
29.We should clarify the meaning of this
30.At this dharma [reality] has
“already arrived.” At that dharma [reality] has “already arrived.”
31.[To research] this truth of
moment-by-moment utter entrustment, we must research the mind. In the
mountain-still state of such research, we discern and understand that ten
thousand efforts are [each] the mind being evident, and the triple world is
just that which is greatly removed from the mind. This discernment and
understanding, while also of the myriad real dharmas, activate the
homeland of the self. They make immediate and concrete the vigorous state of
the human being in question.
32.If I put it in words, “expounding the
mind and expounding the nature” is the pivotal essence of the Seven Buddhas and
the ancestral masters.
33.In conclusion, we should know that in
the Buddha’s truth there are inevitably Buddhist sutras; we should learn in
practice, as the mountains and the oceans, their universal text and their profound
meaning; and we should make them our standard for pursuing the truth.
34.Because they are too stupid to
understand the meaning of the Buddhist sutras for themselves, they randomly
insult the Buddhist sutras and neglect to practice and learn them. We should
call them flotsam in the stream of non-Buddhism.
35.We should realize in experience that
every single thing is truly “something.” “Something” is not open to doubt: “it
comes like this.”
36.When we have the will to venerate the
ancients, the ancient sutras come to the present and manifest themselves before
37.In the great truth of the
Buddha-Dharma, the sutras of the great thousandfold [world] are present in an
atom, and countless buddhas are present in an atom. Each weed and each tree are
a body-mind. Because the myriad dharmas are beyond appearance, even the
undivided mind is beyond appearance. And because all dharmas are real
form, every atom is real form. Thus, one undivided mind is all dharmas,
and all dharmas are one undivided mind, which is the whole body.
38.Just at this moment, how is it? We
might say, “it is completely beyond necessity.”
39.The mystical power and wondrous
Carrying water and lugging firewood.
40.We must investigate this truth
41.The time that is just the moment of
this [realization] is now.
42.The question “What is it like at the
time when a person in the state of great realization returns to delusion?”
truly asks a question that deserves to be asked.
43.For example, while I see the “I” of
yesterday as myself, yesterday I called [the “I” of] today a second person. We
do not say that present realization was not there yesterday; neither has it
begun now. We should grasp it in experience like this.
44.Nangaku says, “When you are
[practicing] sitting buddha, that is just killing buddha.” This says further
that when we are investigating sitting buddha, the virtue of killing buddha is
present. The very moment of sitting buddha is the killing of “buddha.” If we
want to explore the good features and the brightness of killing buddha, they are
always present in sitting buddha. The word “to kill” is as [used by] the common
person, but we should not blindly equate [its usage here] with that of the
common person. Further, we should investigate the state in which sitting buddha
is killing buddha, [asking:] “What forms and grades does it have?” Taking up
[the fact] that, among the virtues of buddha, killing buddha is already
present, we should learn in practice whether we ourselves are killing a person
or not yet killing a person.
45.Those who have not illuminated each dharma,
dharma by dharma, cannot be called clear eyed, and they are not the
attainment of the truth; how could they be Buddhist patriarchs of the eternal
past and present?
46.The present words of master and
disciple we should without fail examine in detail.
47.We ourselves are tools that it
possesses within this universe in ten directions.
48.How do we know that it exists? We know
it is so because the body and the mind both appear in the universe, yet neither
49.The body, already, is not “I.” Its
life moves on through days and months, and we cannot stop it even for an
50.Do not pass time in vain.
51.The integrated form that is “composed”
of “real dharmas,” is “this body.”
52.So is there any Buddhist patriarch who
is other than the hundred weeds? And how could the hundred weeds be other than
“I” and “you”?
53.Without being objective things, [cedar
trees] cannot be cedar trees.
54.To see and hear the brightness of the
self is proof of having directly encountered buddha; it is proof of having met
55.The Buddha’s truth is such that if we
intend not to practice the truth we cannot attain it, and if we intend not to
learn [the truth] it becomes more and more distant.
56.This I preach as a dream in a dream.
57.Because it is the realization of
experience in experience, it is “the preaching of the dream-state in the
58.The buddhas and the patriarchs are the
expression of the truth.
59.Buddhas are the state of experience
itself, and so things are the state of experience itself.
60.So life is what I am making it, and I
am what life is making me.
61.What has been described like this is
that life is the self, and the self is life.
62.So although the moon was there last
night, tonight’s moon is not yesterday’s moon.
63.Remember that space is a thing.
64.The moment and causes-and-conditions of
the present, and the lands-of-dust and space of the present, are both nothing
other than the eternal mind.
65.How much less could they know that the
succession of the complicated continues by means of the complicated? Few have
known that the succession of the Dharma is the complicated itself.